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Mental Health 101

What is Gaslighting?

In 2018, Oxford Dictionaries named “gaslighting” as one of the most popular words of the year. It is defined as the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.

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“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation,” says psychologist Riyan Portuguez. “A person who gaslights seeks to gain more power in an argument by portraying themselves as the victim or making the partner question their worth.” 

Common statements you may hear from gaslighters include: 

“I was just joking.”

“I didn’t do that/I never said that. You’re imagining things.”

“You have issues.”

“You’re upset over nothing.”

“Here we go again.”

“You’re being sensitive/you’re so dramatic.”

“Gaslighting can be unintentional, especially in cases where one person is so afraid of losing the other that they will say anything to divert blame or avoid a difficult conversation,”

Riyan Portuguez, psychologist

While gaslighting is most often mentioned in the context of a romantic relationship, any relationship that has a power dynamic (i.e. friends, family members, or workmates) can be a breeding ground for this toxic behavior. This means that not only is it highly likely that most of us have been gaslighted at some point in our lives, it’s also possible that we have inadvertently gaslighted other people as well. 

“Gaslighting can be unintentional, especially in cases where one person is so afraid of losing the other that they will say anything to divert blame or avoid a difficult conversation,” explains Riyan. “But we need to understand that gaslighting is self-defeating, because it does not resolve the conflict in a mature or proper way.” 

Gaslighting can have a devastating and long-term impact on our emotional, psychological, and even physical well-being. This is why it’s important to learn how to spot the technique, shut it down, and minimize the psychological impact on our daily lives or the lives of our loved ones.

How to tell if you are being gaslighted

According to Dr. Robert Stern, author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include:

  • No longer feeling like the person you used to be
  • Being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
  • Often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
  • Feeling like everything you do is wrong
  • Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
  • Apologizing often
  • Often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
  • Making excuses for your partner’s behavior

What to do if you feel you are being gaslighted

  1. Don’t say “You’re gaslighting me!” “Accusations will only make the other person defensive and escalate the situation. Remember that it’s possible your partner is not even aware that they are gaslighting,” reminds Riyan.
  2. Instead, point to specific, observable actions and how they made you feel. Use ‘I’ statements such as “I felt __ when you did/said ___.”
  3. When presenting your side, stand your ground. “Gaslighters will seek to confuse you. But if you know your truth, it won’t be as easy to sway you,” Riyan says.
  4. Always remember that you are not responsible for another person’s actions or emotions. Gaslighters usually claim that you provoked the abuse. “Most victims of gaslighting end up rationalizing the gaslighter’s behavior by saying ‘He reacted this way because I did this’ or ‘It’s my fault she said that.’ But if we start feeling responsible, it will be hard for us to recognize reality,” Riyan shares. “It’s good to be empathetic and try to look at the other person’s point of view, but if you are the one wronged, you need to put up healthy barriers.”   
  5. Talk to someone about what you are going through. These can be trusted friends, loved ones, or even a mental health professional. This does not mean telling them off the bat that the other person is a gaslighter. “Don’t seek to make the other person look bad because again, they might not even be aware of what they are doing,” cautions Riyan. Instead, focus on the problem or the situation and seek advice on what to do, or if your thoughts and feelings are valid.
  6. Know when to walk away. “If you have exhausted all means but the gaslighter refuses to change their ways, then you need to leave the relationship to protect your mental health and peace of mind,” advises Riyan. “You are not responsible for changing another person; better to spend your time and energy with people who are more deserving of your attention and who see your worth.”

How to stop yourself from gaslighting others

If you are worried that you might be gaslighting your loved one, here are things you can do:

  1. Think before you speak or act. “Before you say or do something during a difficult conversation, ask yourself if your words or actions will improve the relationship, or worsen it,” advises Riyan.
  2. Seek to find common ground, not to “win.” “What is more important to you, the relationship, or your need to be right?” asks Riyan.
  3. If you made a mistake, own up to it. “Nobody is perfect, so reevaluate yourself before you plunge into a difficult conversation,” Riyan suggests.
  4. If the other person really misread the situation or misjudged you, don’t get angry or defensive. “This can happen in partners who came from toxic or abusive relationships; they inadvertently bring their hurts and insecurities into their current situation,” explains Riyan. So instead of responding to their accusations with “You’re being dramatic, it’s nothing!” or “You’re just imagining things,” ask them to pinpoint what exactly you did or said that they found wrong, and explain your side. “Don’t avoid the conversation; use it to give your partner the reassurance that they need,” she adds.

It is entirely possible to stop gaslighting behavior, but it will take a great deal of self-awareness to do so. While there are some who are able to do it on their own, talking to a mental health professional can also help. Therapists can guide you in examining your actions and see if you have been, consciously or unconsciously, engaging in toxic behaviors. They can also help you to make needed changes that will make your own life and relationships better.

Categories
Self Help

How To Cope With Never-ending Bad News

Bad news and negativity on social media is almost inescapable. As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year and newer, faster-spreading variants emerge, stories about surges in infections and deaths, announcements about renewed lockdowns, and posts about vaccine anxiety are dominating our newsfeeds.

Add into this mix the stressors carried over from last year (i.e. financial stress, isolation, and fear) and it’s no wonder that people are experiencing more mental health challenges than ever.

“Self-care is self-preservation.”

Kevin Quibranza, life coach

What should we do when we feel as if we can’t take it anymore? This is where self-care comes in. And while it may initially feel ludicrous to think of taking a break when there are so many problems that need to be fixed, we are actually duty-bound to take care of ourselves. “Self-care is self-preservation,” says Kevin Quibranza, life coach and MindNation People and Operations Head. “Everything in our lives — our goals, financial security, relationships with others — are dependent on our level of health, and self-care acts ensure that we stay healthy enough to achieve positive outcomes in all of them.” If we fail to take care of ourselves and get sick — whether physically or mentally — then we risk financial uncertainties, damaged relationships, and even our lives.

With this in mind, here are some things you can do to take care of your well-being when it all seems too much to bear:

Don’t forget the self-care basics. Prioritize sleep, eat mindfully, exercise, and stay in touch with loved ones. These promote not just mental health but also our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, enabling us to feel less stressed and more resilient in anxiety-ridden times like these.

Reduce social media use. While social media is a great way to keep in touch with family and friends as well as stay informed about the latest news, studies have shown that excessive use can fuel feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. And if your newsfeed is becoming an obituary these days, it’s time to modify your habits so that you improve your mood. “You may not have control over the things you see on social media, but you are in control of the amount of time you expose yourself to it,” Kevin points out.

Some things you can do:

1. Use anti-distraction software. “I will only check social media for one hour each day” is easier said than done because social networks were deliberately designed to be as addictive as possible by some of the smartest people in the world. The solution — use tools that enforce discipline. Focus apps like Forest, Focus To-Do, and Pomodoro Timer can block the websites or apps that you want for an amount of time that you set, and can be a bit cumbersome to disable so you think twice about “cheating.”

2. Adjust who you are following. You don’t need to follow every news outlet or every famous journalist — limit it to just two or three so you are not bombarded with the same bad news in a short period of time. And if you have friends or relatives who regularly post fake news or propaganda that raises your hackles — that’s what the “Unfollow” function is for.

3. Institute a social media free day each week. Pick one day a week to go without your phone or social media, and it will go a long way to giving your mind the space it needs to slow down and rest.

Give yourself permission to express and feel your emotions. Apart from fear and anxiety, guilt and shame are two other emotions experienced by many during this pandemic. It is frequently felt by those who look at the infection and death tolls and wonder how they were spared, as well as by those who recovered after being infected. And while these feelings are normal, they can lead to longer-term mental health issues if left unresolved. If you are feeling survivor’s guilt, try to manage them by doing the following:

4. Practice being kind to yourself. Instead of asking “Why me?” try “Why not me?”

Meditate, breathe, journal. These mindfulness activities can provide a much-needed break from the barrage of bad news that tends to worsen your guilt.

Use compassionate self-talk. Accept that what you are feeling is part of being human.

Drop some responsibilities. Stress is caused by an imbalance in the different aspects of your life (i.e. work, relationships, “me” time) so analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. “If your body and your mind are both telling you that you need a break – listen to it. Stop what you are doing and indulge in activities that can boost your happiness or gratitude,” Kevin says.

5. Find ways to help others. Studies have shown that happiness and life satisfaction increases when we volunteer or help others,” shares Kevin. “It might seem hard to do while maintaining social distancing, but simple acts like talking to and empathizing with friends who are in need or helping your family with chores at home can really change your perspective.”

6. Talk to a mental health professional. You don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you feel pain or discomfort in your physical body, so neither should you delay talking to a psychologist or WellBeing Coach if you are feeling stressed, empty, alone, afraid, or overwhelmed. And even if you are not struggling, there’s no harm in checking-in with an expert. At the end of the day, we all benefit from knowing that someone will always be there to listen.

MindNation offers 24/7 online sessions with licensed psychologists and WellBeing Coaches. Book your session now through bit.ly/mn-chat or email [email protected]

Categories
Featured Self Help

Note To Self: Practicing Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is often interchanged with self-care, but while the two are related there is a distinct difference. The former is regarding yourself compassionately, while the latter is treating yourself compassionately; one is a thought, the other is an action.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defined it as “being understanding towards one’s self during times that we experience perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.” She adds that it is composed of three main components:

1. Self-kindness

This entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism. Dr. Neff says that self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing difficulties are inevitable aspects of life, so they treat themselves gently when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.

2. Common humanity.

Dr. Neff explains that when something bad happens to us, we tend to feel frustrated and even isolated, i.e. “I’m the stupidest person in the world for doing this,” “Why is this happening to me?” or even “No one else understands what I am going through.” But in reality, all humans suffer and make mistakes, so self-compassion means recognizing that problems and trials are things that everyone in the world goes through and not just “me” alone.

3. Mindfulness

This is a non-judgmental, receptive state of mind in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. If we take a balanced approach or our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed or exaggerated, then we are practicing self-compassion.

Self-compassion and mental health

If you practice self-compassion you will tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people recognize when they are suffering and are kind to themselves at these times, which reduces their stress. Luckily, self-compassion is a learnable skill.

Here are some ways:

1. Comfort your body.

Anything you can do to improve how you feel physically is already self-compassion. Eat something healthy. Lie down and rest when you feel tired instead of pushing on. Get a massage or massage different body parts on your own. Take a walk.

2. Write a letter to yourself

In the letter, describe a situation that caused you to feel bad (a breakup with a partner, losing your job, receiving negative feedback). Write how the events occurred in a factual manner, without blaming anyone. This is a good way to help you unburden and acknowledge your feelings.

3. Give yourself encouragement.

If something bad happens to you, think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing happened to him or her. Then direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.

4. Practice mindfulness.

Observe the direction of your thoughts, feelings, and actions after a particularly stressful event, without trying to suppress or deny them. Instead, accept the bad events in your life (as well as the good ones) with a compassionate attitude.

5. Practice self-forgiveness

Stop beating yourself up for your mistakes. Accept that you are not perfect, and be kind to yourself when you are confronted with your shortcomings.

6. Employ a Growth (vs. Fixed) Mindset.

This means viewing and embracing challenges as opportunities to grow rather than as impossible obstacles (fixed) that should be avoided.

7. Express gratitude.

Instead of constantly wishing for what you do not have, find strength in appreciating what you do have at the moment. By focusing on your blessings, you move the focus away from your shortcomings and to all that is good in your life.

The next time you do not meet the expectations you have for yourself, resist the urge to feel sad, angry, or inadequate. Instead, take a moment to pause and reassess, then forgive yourself and recognize that you are only human.

Written by Jacq of Mindnation

Categories
Featured Self Help

4 Ways To Stop Feeling Guilty

Guilt is defined as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined. It’s okay to feel guilty if you know you really did something wrong because it will motivate you to correct your mistakes. However, if you simply think that you should feel guilty, or, worse, that you deserve to feel guilty over something that you said or did, then you are only tormenting and yourself.

Below are some ways you can avoid becoming overwhelmed by irrational guilt:

1. Let the past stay in the past

If your feeling of guilt is connected to an event that you were involved with in the past, then you should learn to accept that it has already happened and there is nothing more you can do about it. An example – you feel guilty because you survived an accident while your companions did not. Feeling bad will not change the outcome; the only way forward is to accept reality, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

2. Realize that nobody is perfect

As the saying goes, to err is human. Everyone commits wrongdoings, whether slight or significant, that he or she will regret later on. Instead of beating yourself up for being less than perfect, focus your efforts on not repeating the same mistakes in the future.

3. Practice self-compassion

We are our own worst critics, and more often than not we will not hesitate to beat ourselves over our mistakes, perceived or otherwise. One way you can be kinder to yourself is to imagine your mistakes happening to a close friend or loved one – would you want him or her to feel the same degree of guilt as you do now? If your answer is no, give yourself the same treatment you would want for that other person.

4. Express your bad feelings in writing or talking

If you are constantly plagued by shame and regret, try to journal your feelings every day so you can build awareness and pinpoint what exactly is causing those guilty feelings. Then you can find ways to deal with it. Studies show that journaling is a very helpful tool in managing your mental health as it helps you deal with overwhelming emotions, and helps you find a healthy way to express yourself. You can also consider seeking help from your loved ones or professional help. These people can give advice on how you can overcome your guilt.

Mindnation psychologists are available for teletherapy sessions 24/7. Book a session now thru bit.ly/mn-chat.

No matter the cause, living with guilt has never been good for one’s mental health. Learn to be kind to yourself by practicing self-forgiveness, letting go of your past regrets, and moving forward.

Written by Jac of Mindnation